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12 Entrepreneurial Mindset Rules I Learned the Hard Way

Dec 8, 2021 | Business

Over the last five years, I built a multi-billion dollar company. When all you hear is the current valuation, it can sound like a glide path—that we started something, a half decade went by, and boom, success.

The truth, as most people know, isn’t that simple. The fact that we have scaled is awesome, but until recently, this experience was difficult. I made every mistake imaginable.

The toughest part wasn’t getting the business right—it was getting my head right. Here are the 12 hard-won mindset rules that I’ve developed in the course of building Bolt:

Rule 1: Get Started

If you tell 10 people about your idea, it’ll go something like this: 5 will say it won’t work; 3 will say you’re crazy; 2 will be indifferent.

The best part? None of these people’s opinions matter. Just get started. It’ll be the hardest thing you do. Momentum compounds, and once you get the rock rolling down the hill, good things materialize.

Rule 2: Never Stop

The leading cause of startup failure is founders giving up. If you don’t give up, you can’t fail. Easier said than done, I know. Some days you’ll feel on top of the world, some days you’ll feel like everything is breaking.

Whatever it is, never give up. You’ll be astonished how many startup stories are just about persistence paying off—not genius, not exceptional design, not some secret code. Just dogged, day-in-day-out persistence.

Rule 3: Hire Uncomfortably Good People

I started Bolt as a 19-year old college dropout. On paper, I was nothing. So I had to hire people who could teach me something—and who were somethings themselves.

Most people think they should hire people they can one up. I did the opposite: I hired people WAY out of my league. It was a forcing function to mature fast.

Rule 4: Get Your Sh*t Together

It took me a lot of inner work to get this one. Early on, I was operating from a place of insecurity and fear. This was productive in the short term, and destructive in the long term.

Preparation builds confidence. Do the work so that you can trust your instincts. Think of your mind as the foundation atop which all the other things—including your company—rests. If you fix the foundation, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Rule 5: Be OK with Failure

I’ve studied hundreds of successful startups. Lots of differences between the lot, but one commonality: they all have risk-seeking cultures. To get 10x outcomes, you have to take 10x risks. If you fail, do it fast, and move on.

Rule 6: Don’t Be OK with Too Much Failure

Embracing failure is important but don’t fall in love with it. This is one of Bezos’ iconic leadership lessons from Amazon: “Be right, a lot.” People who are right = people who listen + people who change their mind.

Rule 7: Eat Healthy, Stay Balanced

This is so underrated. Your company is a reflection of you. If you are unhealthy and imbalanced, your company will be, too.

I used to think I was invincible. As I (and everyone) eventually learned, nobody is. I hit a wall, made mistakes, and had to fix myself. Once I did, everything changed for the better. Take care of yourself.

Rule 8: Sometimes Get Unhealthy and Unbalanced

Wait what? You just told me to do the opposite! We have a concept at Bolt called a “Lightning Week.” It’s a week in which we red-line the engine to push something out.

You should go into the red for short stints—this gets maximum intensity. Don’t be afraid to step on the gas, but don’t run this way for too long.

Rule 9: Creativity is a Pillar of Execution

Early on, I put a premium on logical thinking. While important, too much logic is too much rational thinking. To build something great you need to think outside the box. You need creativity.

This is especially true for technology start-ups, that often pride themselves on a rigorous rationality. Remember that there’s an element of magic to successful products, and that the magic requires creativity.

Rule 10: Don’t Let People Get Too Creative

Creativity pushes you to think outside the box. But here’s the thing: a lot of building a company is blocking and tackling. It’s boring, humdrum, day-to-day execution.

Boring is good, because it creates predictability and durability. Be creative in planning, and boring in execution.

Rule 11: Take It Seriously

Conviction is cascading. Nobody is going to care more than you as the Founder. And honestly, you can’t expect them to. But everyone can have the same level of conviction. Aspire for that. Show your team you’re serious by making every day count.

Rule 12: But Don’t Take It Too Seriously

If you’re not having fun along the way, you’re going to break. It’s not a question of if you’ll break—more like when and how seriously.

I’ve made some of my best friends by working on Bolt over the last 5 years. By not taking everything so seriously, we’ve built a place where there’s humor, friendship, and yes, fun. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

And that’s it!

Startups are tough — wherever you are in your journey, I salute you. I hope these 12 mindset rules help you as much as they’ve helped me. I still reflect on all 12 of these every day, and they’ve helped me become a better founder, leader, and human being.

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